Our mother began to become a bit ill from the decade of the 1980s. During this time, father performed the Hajj pilgrimage with his wife in 1988. Now sometimes he would take his lunch with him and eat it at the Club Road office and then leave for the Funoon office from there; however the dinner was eaten together with everyone at home upon father’s return. After dinner, father would always eat an apple. He would listen to the 9 o’clock news; walk at home; then he would sit down writing and would keep writing and reading until late at night. He would always have milk mixed with Ovaltine before retiring for the night. He would keep the bed cover clean and without a crease. He would keep two or three very soft pillows made from sumbul below his head. The topmost pillow would be the softest into which his beautiful head of curly hair would almost stick into. Only then was he able to sleep. (In summers, water used to be sprayed in the courtyard outside and a pedestal fan was put on, and father was very fond of sleeping under the open sky like this. But afterwards when in a way the custom of sleeping out in the open in Lahore ended, father also had to sleep in front of the cooler and then with the air-conditioner in the room inside.)
After he left us, we saw that his pillow had one last, deep furrow, made by the pressing of his head. My daughter photographed it. My wish was to take him to the ancestral graveyard in Anga but the right of decision belonged to my brother, who said that since mother was also laid to rest here, father would also remain with her here in Lahore.
“We saw that his pillow had one last, deep furrow, made by his head. My daughter photographed it”
He wasn’t accustomed to saying, ‘My own home’, ‘my home’, etc. He used to refer to home as just ‘home’. He didn’t hate home. It was a place of security and peace for him. It was (due to) father’s hard work (‘pen-labour’, according to Nadeem) and mother’s skill that the children and the home never faced any constraint. When mother insisted on constructing their own house, father reasoned with her that his ideology and thought was that when everyone else is at ease, only then should we do so ourselves. Mother responded by saying that we are not taking anyone’s right from them; rather we will save money by reducing our necessities on our own and work very hard to achieve this comfort. Eventually they built the house after taking a loan and paid it off in installments. Mother pooled money into a few ‘committees’ to buy a small car (she had already bought a fridge and television by this method). The car was also bought on installments and ostensibly father paid them in a timely manner. He wrote a lot of columns and attended a lot of recitals. It was also father’s magnanimity and sense of justice that he transferred the ownership of first the plot, then the house and even the car to his wife. After mother passed away, he did not transfer the house ownership to himself but after asking for our consent, transferred it to his son Nauman. He did not display any greed or avarice. I felt that firstly he desired the benefit and goodness of all; and secondly it was his great wish that he himself should receive lots of love. This desire too was fulfilled: he received great love. Everyone loved him, although according to Nadeem,
‘Enemies though I had a few, Humans though they were too’
That is why he even says that, ‘On the nature of Man I have that trust, Am never a stranger (in any city), travel if I must’
But this same desire of his not only remained his greatest strength, but also his greatest weakness or shortcoming, which also worried him a lot. He used to find a solution to every problem, defeating negativity with a positive attitude. But this desire deluded him, and made him sad. He was living a very good life. The home and household affairs were well on their course when in the decade of the 1980s, one of his so-called relatives began to create a gulf between himself, his home and the family members. My extremely beautiful mother (at the time of her marriage, she was fourteen or fifteen years younger to my father; this marriage had been arranged by Nadeem’s mother among close relatives, my mother was just a girl at the time) since getting married had been facing the bitter attitudes of many so-called relatives and had been negotiating them very well for the sake of her husband.
“Father reasoned with Mother that his ideology was that when everyone else is at ease, only then should we ourselves live such a life”
But now when this latest so-called relation established itself, it became very cruel, hypocritical, mean-hearted and stubborn, and overturned the tranquility of Nadeem’s household. But Nadeem was the epitome of great forbearance, he tried to be faithful to every relation successfully till the end. Even our wise and brave mother also tried but she became unwell. After her death, his son and daughter-in-law took great care of him. So home for him always remained his home and his room remained his own special room. Even today we refer to it as father’s room. He used to spend holidays at home by staying happy, talking and laughing all the time.
Regarding any salient events that transformed Nadeem’s relationship with his house, a whole pile of events has accumulated in front of me. I will narrate the two or three things which immediately come to the fore. As I mentioned before, father had the habit of having milk mixed with Ovaltine in the morning and night. Mother was always in search of large, expensive and beautiful special mugs for him and bought these the minute she saw them. Once it happened that we were still in the process of waking up in the morning, when there was an uproar in the house. It transpired that father’s special kaanch mug could not be found. Mother was telling everyone including father that she had herself given it to him the night before, and he was saying that he had out it on the table after drinking the milk. But now it cannot be found. Father was sitting silent and serious. After everyone including mother had become tired of searching, father called us near him and then took us inside the store. He took out an envelope underneath the cupboard behind the door. It contained the pieces of the broken mug, and every little piece of the kaanch. He told us the details in an entertaining manner, and all of us including mother laughed a lot.
When my younger sister died suddenly in 1995, aged 43, due to the negligence of the doctor (she had been given an excess dose of anaesthesia), she was in Samundari district. Father was in his home in Lahore. He was agitated. He would say “What was the fault of my innocent daughter and her children? How soon she has left…” He remembered her till his last breath. And one more thing! Father’s birthday was celebrated with great pomp by his friends, but before that father used to first celebrate it at home with all of us. He would make very fun-filled conversation, make us laugh a lot and open our gifts with great affection, giving importance to each; and only then he would go out to visit his friends.
I knew how hard my father and mother worked to build this house. That is why I had great affection for it; but when girls get married they look at themselves as strangers in their maternal home. Maybe this is also important so that they may adjust to the new place. But the only important thing which remained was that father, mother, brother and his family are all there; and countless memories crumpled in its nooks and corners. I never asked my brother (he is younger to me) but when its reconstruction and refurbishment began in 2014 I wondered whether I may not be going away from my parents? I still see the house as per the former plan in my dreams. After visiting it two or three times, its alienation has gone now, because my parents’ beloved son now lives there. My sister-in-law, nephew and nieces, and also my brother are all very happy there, and I am also satisfied and pray for their happiness and prosperity.
‘I light life like I do a lamp, Nadeem,
Extinguished I will be, at least I will have created morning’
Raza Naeem is an academic and translator based in Lahore. The translations from the Urdu are his own
Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and award-winning translator and dramatic reader based in Lahore, where he is also the president of the Progressive Writers Association. He is currently working on a book, Sahir Ludhianvi’s Lahore, Lahore’s Sahir Ludhianvi, forthcoming in 2022. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @raza_naeem1979